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World Rugby confirms radical law changes ahead of Test season

NEWS: The evolution of the game we love has continued with the World Rugby Council approving a package of law amendments that will come into effect from July 1.

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Three new law amendments relating to offside from kicks in open play, the options available from a free-kick and the removal of the practice of ‘crocodile rolling’ a player away from the tackle/ruck area, are aimed at promoting ball in flow and diversity of attacking options, while supporting player welfare.

Phased action plan roll-out continues

Approval marks the latest phase in the roll-out of the Shape of the Game action plan, a transformative cross-game plan to grow rugby’s audience share. The plan seeks to increase rugby’s accessibility and relevance among a broader, younger fanbase by embracing on-field innovation and reimagined presentation of the sport with compelling storytelling.

Combined with the previously announced reinforcement of current law and a suite of opt-in closed law trials and future law innovation via specialist working groups and new rugby law labs (all approved by the World Rugby Executive Board in March), the law amendments are part of an approach to addressing common areas of fan and player frustration. These include the prevalence of kick tennis, lack of space, slow ball from the caterpillar ruck, use of technology, and set-piece dead time.

The programme is being rolled out with the support of national unions, competitions, universities and players and is central to the sport’s central mission of growth by increasing its audience share.

What are the law changes from July 1?

With a focus on both spectacle and safety and all geared towards the promotion of quick attacking ball, three law amendments will be operational across the game for competitions beginning after July 1 this year.

  • Onside from kicks in open play: In a rewrite of Law 10.7 relating to players being put onside from kicks in open play, it will no longer be possible for a player to be put onside when an opposition player catches the ball and runs five metres, or passes the ball. Laws 10.1 and 10.4 will make clear that offside players must make an attempt to retreat, creating space for the opposition team to play. This should reduce the amount of kick tennis in the game.
  • Free-kicks: Under Law 20.3, it will no longer be possible to choose a scrum from a free-kick. Free-kicks must either be tapped or kicked to encourage more ball in flow.
  • Banning the ‘crocodile roll’: The action of rolling/twisting/pulling of a player on their feet in the tackle area (the ‘crocodile roll’) will be outlawed, sanctioned by a penalty.

Closed law trials to debut in World Rugby competitions this year

Meanwhile, World Rugby has announced further details of a suite of six closed law trials that will operate across World Rugby-run competitions from July including the World Rugby Under-20 Championship, U20 Trophy and Pacific Nations Cup. Unions and competition owners may implement within their own competitions as a closed trial.

A full review of effectiveness of the trials will be presented to the Executive Board in November to inform decisions regarding wider implementation.

  • Revised on- and off-field sanctions process increasing simplicity, consistency and fan understanding. This features the combination of strong automatic off-field red card sanctions and the ability to replace a red-carded player after 20 minutes.
  • Introduction of the 30-second shot clock for scrum and line-out setting and a maximum of 60 seconds for conversions [a reduction of 30 seconds] aligning with the time permitted for penalty kicks at goal.
  • Protection of the No.9 at the base of the scrum, ruck and at the maul following successful trials in Major League Rugby in the USA and in elite and community competitions in New Zealand. The No.9 will not be able to be played while the ball is still near a tackle, ruck or maul, and the offside line at the scrum for the non-putting in scrumhalf will be the middle of the tunnel.
  • Ability to mark the ball inside the 22m line from a restart, promoting attacking options.
  • The ball must be played after the maul has been stopped once, not twice.
  • Play on at a line-out if the ball is not thrown straight but only if line-out is uncontested, aiding the flow of the game.

Specialist working groups established for future innovations (work to be completed by November 2024)

  • Looking to the future, specialist working groups have been established to further explore areas of game enhancement identified by the Shape of the Game forum for further consideration. Recommendations will be made to Council in November.
  • Tackle/ruck/breakdown: A major review of the breakdown through the lens of spectacle and safety – e.g. the impact of contesting the ball on the floor, the practice of jackaling as opposed to an upright driving game.
  • Television Match Official (TMO) protocol: Determine the optimal remit for the TMO protocol, while setting new minimum standards for technology providers to promote consistency and independence.
  • Number of replacements: Examine the latest research on the impact of fatigue and the number and timing of replacements in the elite game to determine options that might create more space on the field while improving injury rates.
  • Fan experience: Grow rugby’s audience share via a fan-focused view of how the game is marketed, a consistent approach to presentation of the sport across all media environments and a focus on the moments in the game that really engage fans. This includes a detailed review of the language and terminology that is used within the game and can be viewed as a barrier for audiences.
  • Elite tackle height: Carefully consider the results of the community tackle height trials across 11 national unions globally and consider appropriateness for elite rugby across a range of criteria with player safety the central driver.
    New rugby laws labs established to test future potential innovations

New rugby law labs, which enable World Rugby to test out new law innovations in a controlled environment evaluated by data and player feedback, will be utilised to examine the impact of aspects of the game that either affect speed or safety. These will include scrum engagement stability and enhancing the tackle/ruck area.

World Rugby Chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont said: “I would like to thank my colleagues from across the game for embracing the spirit of this comprehensive review of rugby’s entertainment factor. With calendar certainty, including new competitions and all men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups set through to 2033, our major events are defined, our content set.

“There is unprecedented long-term certainty, and this work is vital to ensuring that the on-field product is befitting of the opportunities that we have in front of us, a superb sport that is enjoyable to play and watch and helps attract a new generation to get into rugby.

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“Personally, I believe that the law amendments and suite of closed trials will add to the entertainment factor. As with all trials, we will comprehensively review their effectiveness and take feedback from across the game. The revised red card sanction process is such an example, and it is important that we trial, assess and make definitive decisions based on data and feedback.”

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